Okanese First Nation chief honoured as longest-serving chief in Canada

Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier of the Okanese First Nation was honoured for being the longest-serving chief in Canada at the Assembly of First Nations on Tuesday.

'I walk shoulder-to-shoulder with them,' said Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, the chief of Okanese First Nation, was honoured by the Assembly of First Nations for being the longest serving chief in Canada. Now, she's been named to the Order of Canada. (Courtesy of Treaty 4 News)

Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier of the Okanese First Nation, Sask., was honoured for being the longest-serving chief in Canada at the Assembly of First Nations.

The ceremony on Tuesday was part of the 37th Annual General Assembly in Niagara Falls, Ont. this week. Day Walker-Pelletier has been serving as chief for 35 years.

"I think it's not what I accomplished — it's what my community has accomplished with my leadership," said Day Walker-Pelletier.

"I never take that word 'I', it's 'we'".

The ceremony was honouring her for her service by recognizing her throughout all the First Nations across Canada.

Day Walker-Pelletier said that her goal in all her years of service is to rebuild from the residential school, Indian Act, and Sixties Scoop eras.

She said it's all about "building my families, working with my families, bringing them hope and then try to work through all the issues that we carry and finding solutions within our community."

Future goals

Even after 35 years of service, Day Walker-Pelletier said that she still has many goals and dreams for her community of 700 people.

She said that she hopes the solid foundation that they have built will bring a better future for the next generation.

One of her hopes for the next generation is to ensure that their culture and language is passed on.

"A handful of people speak our Cree language — and that is the biggest challenge to ensure that our children at least have our Cree language," said Day Walker- Pelletier.

No school on First Nation

For Day Walker-Pelletier, it is more difficult for the language to be passed on without a school on the Okanese reserve.

"It affects us very greatly because then we're not able to build a foundation for our young children," she said.

The First Nation once did have a school, but it had to be shut down due to lack of funding. Now, the students travel to Balcarres to attend school.

Day Walker-Pelletier said that they are working to re-establish their school.

She said that in order to move forward, education is the ultimate goal she has for her community.

"We have lawyers, we have teachers, and social workers," she said.

"That's an achievement for Okanese First Nation — is utilizing that education and having our people become more independent, but there again — that they should not forget about they came from."

She also hopes to work to build a family home on the reserve for the Okanese First Nation children in the foster care system.

The family home would be "so that our kids can stay in our community and our families can work with our elders, work with our support team in order to get their kids back," she said.

On leadership

For Day Walker-Pelletier, being a good leader is about being equal to her membership.

"I walk shoulder-to-shoulder with them," she said. "I see myself as a leader to work with my community and to be with my community."

"When I came home, everybody was saying congratulations to me, and I said, 'You know what, you got to congratulate yourselves for allowing me to be here.'"